Friday, August 1, 2014

E-voting: Accessibility vs. Security

Meep! Second serious post in a row, but accessibility law is important, right? And this one in particular is controversial, too, because it potentially affects not just the disabled community, but the entire country. It's about...[cue dramatic music]

The debate over whether Americans should be allowed to vote through the internet is not exactly fresh. There are those, namely voting system manufacturers, who claim its inevitability and modernity and those who counter, arguing that wide-scale fraud would abound. Recently, though, the debate has turned from a back-and-forth between convenience and security to a civil rights issue.

The focus is on Maryland, where the debate is whether or not the state board of elections must certify internet-based delivery and marking of absentee ballots for members of the disabled community. The plaintiffs are the National Federation for the Blind (NFB), a man with cerebral palsy, and a woman who is deaf and blind.

Maryland's proposed system is not internet voting to the fullest extent; rather, it allows absentee voters to get their ballots online and mark them through an internet-connected browser window that communicates with the county election office's servers. Then they would also have to print the ballot, sign and mail it. It's a similar system to what overseas and military voters currently use. As of 2012, too, all voters in Alaska have had the option to vote electronically.

Those who use forms of electronic voting systems currently represent a small portion of voters. Opponents are concerned that, should the lawsuit succeed, a national precedent will be set, and everyone will be able to vote online. This, they say, would mean exposing a vast number of voters to compromised security and privacy.

However, members of the disabled community know quite a bit about compromised security and privacy when voting. Polling booths are required to have accessibility features that allow visually impaired voters to listen to instructions and choices, but poll workers are often untrained in these features, and volume and clarity can be problematic. Blind absentee voters tend to have to go to elections offices and trust an election worker to fill out the ballot accurately and faithfully. Further, there does not currently exist a polling system that allows the deaf-blind or those with motor skill impairments to vote independently.

“People without disabilities take it for granted being able to vote privately or independently,” says Lou Ann Blake, the Help America Act project coordinator for the NFB. “That's not something the blind person can do absentee. Even if it's a family member helping them, that can be an awkward situation. I want to be able to vote privately and independently absentee like everybody else. I don't think that's an irrational expectation.”

Still, widespread security is a major concern for many voters. Security is an issue even with paper ballots, but e-voting opponents say that those risks are minor compared to those posed by online voting. In particular, online voting increases the population of potential (anonymous and possibly remote) saboteurs and their methods of vote-rigging.

What do you think? Both sides have valid points. Share your thoughts!

(Also, if you want to read more, click here!)

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